NEW STORY OF CREATION
By Rev. Fr. John Leydon
is the five-page edition of the "New Story of Creation," the
"personal version" of the classic Creation story which
reconciles the Bible's Book of Genesis with what the best of human
science has found out about the origin of the universe and of life.]
origin of the Universe as told to us by science starts with the
primordial flaring forth of energy -- known as the Big Bang -- around 15
thousand million (15 billion) years ago. Everything
in existence at this moment was contained in a potential state in that
great outpouring. The story continues with cooling of the fireball and
the first atoms -- simple ones like hydrogen and helium but with these
elements come the force of gravity which forms billions of galaxies
containing billions of stars. Five thousand million years ago (five
billion) a star in our galaxy 'went supernova' bursting with the
brightness of a million stars. In the heart of events like this were
created all the elements that make up our table of elements -- oxygen,
calcium, carbon and all the rest. This cloud of elements coalesced into
thousands of second-generation stars -- one of which was/is our star --
The Sun. When our Sun
ignited it threw the heavy elements into space which formed disks and
including the third planet -- our home -- Earth.
proved to be a very special planet. At first the heavy elements sank to
the bottom and the lighter ones formed a red hot surface -- heated
further by constant bombardment of meteorites. But eventually it cooled
and stabilized; molten at the center, with a thin crust made up of
tectonic plates allowing matter and gases emerges in this space-time
developmental universe that science presents. The immanence and
transcendence fuse into a miraculous grace-filled process. There is much
work to be done by theologians to spell out the presence of Christ and
the identification of Christ with this process, as Paul says "in
Him all things were created... through Him and for Him" (Col.1:16).
From our religious point of view we are returning to a world that is
absolutely full of miracle and mystery. But let us return to the story.
cooled and oceans formed. The first oceans were shallow and rich in
carbon. They were full of chemical activity with basic elements forming
all kinds of molecules and being bombarded by electric storms of great
intensity. Out of this mix comes LIFE – the first cell with a membrane
and dna coding, able to reproduce itself through cloning and to recycle
many elements. It was called the Prokaryote.
story of life can be told in a series of Crises and Breakthroughs. The
first crisis occurs after 100 million years when the carbon soup runs
out! It looked like the story of life would finish here. But a
breakthrough occurred – the simple cells learned to capture the energy
coming from the Sun – a process known as photosynthesis.
this breakthrough comes a new surge of free energy and life thrives once
more. The prokaryote begins to work on the chemical composition of the
planet – releasing oxygen into the air. Oxygen is very volatile. At
first it attacked the rocks and oxidized them like a diligent painter
with one color - red. Then it began to build up in the atmosphere. It
did this for almost one and a half billion years until the free oxygen
in our atmosphere reached 21%. Then it stopped! But now the ozone layer
was complete and life had a protective layer. Then – 2 billion years
ago - the next crisis happens: the oxygen begins to attack the
prokaryote! Again it looked like that life was about to end but another
breakthrough was the Oxygen Revolution or aerobic respiration:
Prokaryotes had developed in different forms over billions of years. One
type had learned to absorb oxygen and it fused with another type to form
a more sophisticated type of cell called a Eukaryote. Now life could
breathe and the oxygen was no longer a threat but a source of energy!
root of the word Eukaryote is the same as that in the word Eucharist –
or communion. It is interesting to reflect on this at this time of our
current crisis. The Holy Father, reflecting on our current crisis calls
for “A New Solidarity”. To what forms of new solidarity is creation
calling us in our current planetary crisis?
billion years ago the next crisis happens: The carbon, sun and air are
no longer sufficient to support life as it has proliferated. So creation
came up with another unprecedented breakthrough: Life begins to feed off
itself – a process called heterothrophy. The oceans are once again
transformed by a new surge of life. Diversity is multiplied with the
coming of sexual reproduction. The pace of creation is becoming so
intense that another phenomenon comes into being to deal with the
explosion – death.
oceans are teeming with biological activity and 600 million years ago
the next breakthrough occurs: Multi-cellular life. Life now begins to
come together in communities of up to 50,000 cells: jellyfish, sponges,
snails, worms, and with the worm, the first brain cell.
goes through four stages when particular forms of life have hegemony:
Invertebrates, Vertebrates, Reptiles (with he famous dinosaurs), and
Mammals. Many of the changes of regime happen because of major
catastrophes like meteorites hitting the planet. Sometimes up to 90% of
the species is wiped out but with millions of years of recovery a new
regime is established.
are great moments in the story of life: The time that Life leaves the
sea and goes on to land. Plants take root, learn to stand up, followed
by insects. Soil is created; forests grow and covered over waiting for
400 million years to be uncovered by industrial civilization. With the
vertebrates the senses develop. Imagine the day that the first eye
opened! Up to this point the wonders of creation had not been seen! But
we now know that it actually happened around 400 million years ago.
first invertebrates to invade the land were amphibians. An amphibian
with five spikes on its gills was among them. Hence our five fingers!
has existed in the seas for almost 90% of its history. We left the sea,
first as amphibians, but then developed skin to carry the sea within us
as we moved around. To quote one author:
ease the transition to these totally different surroundings, (from sea
to dry land) animals invented a most ingenious trick. They took their
former environment with them for their young. To this day the animal
womb simulates the wetness, buoyancy, and salinity of the ancient marine
environment. Moreover, the salt concentrations in the mammal blood and
other bodily fluids are remarkably similar to those in the oceans. We
came out of the ocean more than 400 million years ago, but we never
completely left the seawater behind. We still find it in our blood,
sweat and tears.
REIGN OF THE MAMMALS AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE HUMAN
the coming to power of the Mammals 65 million years ago, the stage is
set for the next breakthrough in creation: the emergence of the Human.
Human-like activity has been around for just over one minute (four
million years). Two seconds before midnight our species appears (over
100,000 years ago). Two fiftieth of a second -- culture appears (10,000
years ago). Five thousand years ago the human moves into the classical
civilization mode. One
thousand of a second ago (400 years ago) the technological civilization
was unleashed on the planet.
was all of this like from the point of view of the ocean? The ocean must
have felt the increase in carbon with the control of fire by humans --
about one million years ago, five seconds, five seconds on our clock.
Then it must have noted the decrease in oxygen that happened with the
clearing of forests that came with farming ten thousand years ago. With
the coming of the Classical civilizations did it also feel the further
loss of forests for warships and the massive burning that took place in
the battles between the great civilizations? Did it notice the coming of
new technology in fishing, sailing and
must surely have noticed the impact that technological civilization
brought with it, 400 years ago (a mere thousand of a second on our 24hr
clock!): the billions of tons of carbon that have to be absorbed each
year because of energy generation. The toxic chemicals -- run-off from
agriculture and human waste which have diminished the capacity for life
on the continental shelves; the destruction of species-rich coral reefs,
mangrove swamps and wetlands to make way for real estate developers, the
loss of 80 million tons of fish yearly for human consumption, the
decline of the magnificent whales. The noxious gasses that poison the
atmosphere, the hundred of thousands of tons of chemical waste poured
into her, the radio-active materials dumped into her womb, mutilating
the genetic coding that originates there, the nuclear explosions that
boil her and all life in their vicinity, the transfer of species through
transportation of ballast water which dramatically alters coastal
Berry, a Passionist priest, eloquently describes our current impact on
the planet while placing it in a historical context:
the agricultural civilizations began some ten thousand years ago, the
human disturbance of the natural world was begun in a serious way...but
the damage was sustainable.
our times, however, human cunning has mastered the deep mysteries of the
earth at a level far beyond the capacities of earlier peoples. We can
break the mountains apart;
we can drain the rivers and flood the valleys. We can turn the most
luxuriant forests into throw-away paper products. We can tear apart the
great grass cover of the land and pour toxic chemicals into the
soil and pesticides into the fields until the soil is dead and blows
away in the wind. We can
pollute the air with acids, the rivers with sewage, the seas with oil -
all in a kind of intoxification with our power for devastation at an
order of magnitude beyond all reckoning. We can invent computers
capable of processing ten million calculations per second. And why? To
increase the volume and the
speed with which we move natural resources
through the consumer economy to the junk
pile or the waste heap. Our managerial skills are
measured by the competence manifested in accelerating
this process. If in these activities the topography
of the planet is damaged, if the environment is made
inhospitable for a multitude of living species, then
so be it. We are, supposedly creating a technological wonderworld.
AND VISION OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL CIVILIZATION
of Europe of the middle ages comes the technological civilization. This
culture was based on the discovery and harnessing the forces of Nature:
gravity, electro-magnetic and nuclear. The technological culture named
these forces, developed the mathematics to measure them and the
technology to use them. We are all familiar with the story of Isaac
Newton watching the apple falling from the tree and naming the law of
gravity. What's really involved here is that he developed a new form of
mathematics -- differential calculus -- to measure moving objects and
the knowledge to control gravity. From
this came the machine to replace movements done by muscle power --
either human or animal. Here is born a new civilization -- the
techno-industrial. Over the next few hundred years the process of
measuring forces was extended to the area of chemistry, electronics,
intelligence and life itself with the discovery of DNA. The culture
spread from Europe through colonialism but eventually became the
dominant world culture, now eagerly adopted by practically all peoples
and dominating all other cultures throughout the world.
development of the culture is facilitated and accompanied by a
corresponding world-view or vision. This world-view looks at the
Universe as a big machine. It replaced a vision of the world as
primarily religious, where Nature was sacred. In the technological
vision the world is totally rational. The world can be known through
empirical scientific investigation and only things known in this way are
considered real. Previous cultures and their wisdom are dismissed as
superstitious myth. Ironically the culture is driven and empowered by
its own myth -- the Myth Of Progress. The myth is unrecognized as a myth
and therefore all the more powerful. Yet it evokes tremendous energy and
commitment from all who come under its spell. Few of us have been spared
from the enchantment of this myth. It drives us to go to the ends of the
earth in pursuit of commerce or even evangelization. It promises us the
creation of a technological wonderland. Unfortunately the reality that
is coming into being is not a wonderland but a wasteland.
is needed is a vision of a different civilization and this can only come
about if we have a new vision of reality. Let me again quote the
will not be successful in our efforts to develop a new attitude towards
the natural world unless we are sustained and nourished by a new vision.
This vision must blossom forth from our understanding of the world as
God intends it to be. We can know the shape of this world by looking at
how God originally fashioned our world and laid it out before us.
is what I would like to do in this presentation: to give you some sense
of this 'NEW VISION' which the bishops propose as the source of a new
attitude to the natural world. I hope to do this by looking at how 'God
originally fashioned our world' -- that is by taking into account the
findings of science -- but science with a difference -- from a religious
point of view.
NEW VISION OF CREATION: CHURCH-SCIENCE RIFT
A NEW RECONCILIATION
few years ago the Holy Father offered an apology to Galileo for the way
the Church, through the Inquisition, treated him. This is an event of
tremendous significance. It marks the end of a long and bitter
separation between religion and science which has lasted 400 years.
the technological civilization emerged a great divorce took place
between religion and science. For some time the Church tried to control
the outpouring of knowledge that the scientific revolution was
producing. After awhile it realized that it was a losing proposition.
Then there was a kind of a 'stand off'. Both religion and science
retreated into their own worlds -- to the detriment of both: science and
technology continued to develop with hardly any moral restraint and
without any input from the wisdom of religious tradition of the
civilization. Religion also suffered grievously: we have had hardly any
new theological reflection on creation for the past 400 hundred years,
hardly any reflection on the role of the Spirit until quite recently.
this changes with the new reconciliation. My wish is that we are about
to enter into a new era of creative dialogue between science and
religion which offers the possibility of a return to the last great age
of cosmology -- the time of Thomas Aquinas who put together his great
Summa based on a creative marriage of the philosophy and science of the
pagan Aristotle and the Christian Vision.
is a great task that will occupy professional theologians for years to
come. But I would like, more like an artist -- a story-teller -- to
sketch what is coming about. I would like to tell the story of the sea
and oceans. I invite to listen to this story as a religious story even
though the content is made up of empirical scientific data. The form is
religious -- it is told with a view to evoke awe and wonder, a sense of
the sacred and provide an insight into what is 'our place in the great
scheme of things'
a poem which I think captures this. I would like to share it with you.
It's by Mary Oliver -- coming out of, and reacting to the ethos of New
England where modern civilization, with its stress on the will and
power, has taken deep roots. It's entitled "You Do Not Have to be
do not have to be good.
do not have to walk on your knees
a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
only have to let the soft animal of your body
what it loves.
me about despair, yours,
I will tell you mine.
the world goes on.
the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
moving across the landscapes,
the prairies and the deep trees,
mountains and the rivers.
the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
heading home again.
you are, no matter how lonely,
world offers itself to your imagination,
to you like the wild geese,
- over a opnd over
your place in
family of things
Other background articles are listed, with links in the Creation
page. click here.
Other important materials can be downloaded from
For a proposed Seven-Step Plan to join the Creation
access an environment-oriented website, click this link: http://earth.web.ph